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Design Engine completes learning centre for Downe House school campus

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The £4.8 million building continues the form of existing cloisters, common throughout the school, referring back to its history as a convent

Design Engine has completed a new learning centre for Downe House, a private girls boarding school based in Cold Ash, Berkshire.

The Murray Centre was conceived following an invited design competition in 2013 for a building that would sit at the centre of the school’s campus and serve as a hub for key spaces. Its facilities include a library, auditorium, teaching spaces, café, shop, social spaces, offices and sixth form support, arranged over three storeys, with a lower ground floor partially set into the natural site levels. 

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1410 downe house approved n42 medium

The centre is situated at the entrance of the school, at the end of its main drive. Its simple form responds to the distinctive character of Downe House and surrounding woodland. 

Collonaded south and east elevations continue the form and rhythms of the existing cloisters within the school, providing a continuation of the protected social spaces. The open elevations to the south-east of the scheme frame views of the trees on the fringes of the campus, while the flat roof emphasises a pavilion-like form. 

Light coloured materials have been chosen to complement the tone of the existing campus – the roof is finished in brown metal matching the window frames and brise-soleil elements of the façades, while a white brick has been used for the solid external walls.

Last year Design Engine also completed a maths and science centre for Charterhouse School in Surrey.

1410 downe house approved n11 medium

1410 downe house approved n11 medium

Architect’s view

Following an invited design competition in 2013, we were commissioned to develop proposals for a visually and experientially inspiring building that would sit at the heart of the campus and serve as a hub for some of the key spaces of learning and day-to-day activities: a new library, multipurpose auditorium, teaching spaces, café, shop, social space, offices and sixth form supporting spaces. Crucially the centre was also envisaged as an environment that acts as a stepping stone towards the experiences of higher education. 

The building will play a central role at Downe House, both in terms of the accommodation it will provide and as a focal building in the wider context of the school campus. Our brief was to create a new ‘heart and soul’ for the school.

This project represents the culmination of a four-year relationship with Downe House, during which, we have been able to design and deliver the Murray Centre as the school’s community centrepiece as part of a 10-year vision for the campus.

Richard Rose-Casemore, founding director, Design Engine

1410 p350 proposedeastandsouthelevs edited

1410 p350 proposedeastandsouthelevs edited

Proposed east and south elevations

Client’s view

The original vision for this project was that it would be a space for the whole community to come together to work and enjoy each other’s company in a well-equipped and welcoming space. It has been amazing to see the way in which the students have used the building already – all those who have visited will testify to what a great resource it is.

Emma McKendrick, headmistress, Downe House School

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1410 p210 planlevel0 edited

Plan level 0

Project data

Start on site March 2017
Completion date November 2018
Gross internal floor area 1,166m²
Form of contract or procurement route Traditional
Construction cost £4.8 million
Architect Design Engine
Client Downe House School
Structural engineer Buro Happold
M&E consultant Buro Happold
QS Ridge
Landscape consultant Indigo Landscape Architects
Acoustic consultant Buro Happold
Project manager Provelio
BREEAM assessor Hoare Lea
Main contractor Beard Construction 

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